Sunday, October 10, 2010

GDC Europe Retrospective

It took me some time to write few words for the GDC Europe and not because there wasn't much said on the conference. On the contrary there was so much material, that I needed some time to digest it and put in into the right perspective.
Me being in general on the technical side, I tried to catch as many of the technical lectures as possible and some were very insightful. I'll pick three of them that stuck to my mind and give a short overview.
Eric Chahi from Ubisoft gave a lecture on High-Performance Simulation, by going through the details of their Project Dust. Now named "From Dust", it is a god game where you have the ability to control a dynamic world shaped by the elements. The game achieves interactive simulation of earth, water and wind in the world, by subdividing it into a grid. Each grid cell is simulated separately, using the neighboring cells as inputs. This idea is often used weather prediction models, but what makes the current implementation is the extreme performance optimization done, so that it can run smoothly on consoles. All the data and code per cell are structured so that they fit in 256KB, so all calculations can be done on a Playstation's SPU's or in the case of the Xbox 360 without a single cache miss.
Michael Drobot from Reality Pump Studios gave a lecture on Advanced Material Rendering, which was mainly a collection of dirty tricks on Deferred Shading. Many of them used the long forgotten technique of dithering. Memorable lecture was also given by Mathew Rubin form Black Rock Studio, the focus of which was the “in studio” pipeline, which allows designers to construct and test their levels in shortest time possible. The topic of most of the lectures was quite narrow, but most importantly it gave a glimpse on how deep are developers prepared to dive to create next generation of games and supply their designers and artists with the best possible tools.
The lectures by Crytek and Autodesk were slightly disappointing in comparison and were used more as a showcase for their products than technology lectures. If I would have been a game producer making a choice which technology to license, the lectures would have been more helpful; but I am not.
The real jewel of the conference however is the mix of disciplines that it includes, so I later shifted my focus towards the fields less known to me, like game design, production and even marketing. The ideas presented were extremely helpful often timeless, as good design doesn’t go bad. Which is more than can be said for rendering techniques. Warren Spector’s keynote on the relation of games to other media has been a guideline for most of my recent game design decisions. The lecture by Louis Castle on how to survive the industry was least to say an inspirational one.
In conclusion, I was a great experience to be part of the game-making world. I would love to be there again, and next year with a project to showcase.